NEW ULM - The New Ulm City Council Tuesday unanimously approved the final assessments for the Minnesota River Levee Project, despite a contested assessment.
The assessment objection in question came from Jerry and Bonnie Ubl, who own two lots in the area. One lot contains their house, and the other is empty.
In a letter to the Council, the Ubls said that when they were planning to build their home in 2007, city officials told them the city would not be providing assistance for a berm or sandbags if the river would flood again. To meet city and FEMA requirements, the Ubls built their home with no basement or crawl-space, and filled the building site so their ground floor was at an elevation of 814.7 feet, about the same as the levee. The city then built a levee in 2011.
Jerry Ubl addressed the Council in person Tuesday, stating that the levee provides no benefit to the Ubl property. He quoted a letter from FEMA stating the Ubls' house, having been built in accordance with FEMA requirements, has been taken off the flood plain.
City officials defended the assessment. They specified that the assessment is being levied on the empty lot, not the house. They stated that it is a buildable lot, and thus would receive a benefit from the levee. Ubl denied the benefit to the empty lot, as well, in a back-and-forth exchange with officials.
City officials also noted that the original intention not to build a levee did indeed, change, as a result of repeated requests from residents, the unanticipated availability of grant money, and a change in the composition of the Council.
The levee project cost some $2.2 million. About $1 million was paid for with a grant, and about $314,000, or 14 percent of the cost, was assessed to properties deemed to benefit from the project.
New Ulm Steel
The Council received an extensive report on regulations for recycling and shredder operations in other Minnesota cities.
The report was requested after the city dealt with complaints about noise, occasional explosions and flying debris at the metal shredder at New Ulm Steel and Recycling (NUSR).
The Council agreed to study the information and take up the matter again, at its February meeting.
According to the report, city officials studied three operations, in Anoka, Minneapolis and St. Paul. Officials concluded that local rules for such operations are community-driven and apply no boiler-plate standards. NUSR would not be in violation of noise regulations if it was located in any of these other cities, said City Manager Brian Gramentz. NUSR is only in violation of local high-frequency (above 400 Hz) noise limits, said Gramentz.
The report also contains information on explosions documented on three different occasions, April 25, July 17 and Oct. 4. Gramentz noted that NUSR in recent months has had a "pretty good handle" on explosions. The potential for explosions can be minimized by carefully looking for explosive materials before product is loaded onto the shredder, said Gramentz.
Gramentz added that NUSR hired engineers to design "a baffle system" - or "a shroud top" - to prevent flying debris.
The Council decided to take time to digest the information before deciding on any course of action, regulatory or other.
The Council also:
Approved a 2 percent wage adjustment for non-unionized, full-time employees. It gave a new, 50-cent per hour, "shift differential" raise to park and recreation employees working on weekends.
Heard the first reading of an ordinance change affecting the membership of the city's Heritage Preservation Commission.
Approved the final plat of the Sarah Hills Third Addition.
Approved a conditional use permit for the placement of fill within the flood fringe district at 2300-2414 North Broadway to construct a water treatment basin;
Gave final approval to the New Ulm City Budget for 2014. The budget was reviewed at the Council's Dec. 3 meeting. With all of the changes in place since that meeting, the gross property tax levy (including all special levies) is $6,102,572. It equates to a 3 percent increase from the 2013 levy.